24 September 2021

dentsu Z, the pioneering force to connect Gen Z and brand

As dentsu’s pioneering force, dentsu Z explores and innovate the way to connect brand and Gen Z consumers.

Below article on dentsu Z team is from the interview by China Advertising.

"Globally, China is the most challenging market in terms of marketing environment, with the highest level of complexity, change and technological advancement in the world. In this context, dentsu Z is a very good experiment and pilot. This team helped us learn that in China you can do something different if you understand the market and take fast actions, and give young people opportunities. 4A agencies can make some changes, and that's the fun part.“ Said Chris Chen, Founder of dentsu Z & Chief Creative Officer, Creative, dentsu China & Isobar China Group

Company visited: dentsu China
Department visited: dentsu Z
Features: apart from the department head, team members are all young people born after 1995, 100% slash youths.
What we are doing: Initiative Idea/Innovation Campaign/Cultural Experience
What we are good at: reflecting the real Gen Z and providing passcodes to brands with reliable youth insights.

It was a late autumn day in dentsu’s Shanghai office, we met with Chris Chen walking in with a smiling face.

As the initiator and founder of dentsu Z, Chris is like a parent with patience and thoughtfulness taking care of dentsu group's most dynamic and fast-growing ‘pioneer zone’.


Let young people handle young people.


With the social environment changing all the time, China is becoming increasingly decentralized. TikTok and Kuaishou, Zhihu, Pinduoduo each separately represent decentralization in content, knowledge, and eCommerce. Chris, who has been in the ads industry for 30 years, realized that the days of one TV commercial serving as the whole campaign has long gone, while the traditional way of creating content first then finding media is no longer feasible. "Now, the content displayed on each young person’s screen is different from where I want to draw their attention.”

Well, here comes the problem. In this decentralized media environment, we were unable to reach any consumers, especially the young consumers. Meanwhile, most advertising agencies were still using the traditional methodology. Chris couldn't help thinking the so-called senior advertising professionals were not really able to throw themselves into some culture communities, and they had no clue where the young were. He realized this became quite serious. On one hand, some of the clients wanted more than just TVCs. On the other hand, we no longer knew how to communicate with the young people. “Then we also tried many other ways. Though there are young people in some creative teams, the turnover is too high because the inherent apprenticeship of the ads agency could not allow them full play, while I found this young generation is quite different as most of them are slash. Maybe we could gather them together and let these young people handle young people, instead of us 'old people'."

Build a team with slash youth only, equally positioned, reporting directly to me. That's what Chris planned, and did right away. As a game and music player as well as fashion lover, Chris knows how to communicate with today's young people and create empathy.

In China, niche is mass. With the large population base, the so-called niche may involve 100 or 200 million people. Brands in expectation of leveraging this cultural power will need some insiders who truly understand the culture. By partnering with several student organizations (lots of brilliant young people returned to China from all over the world due to the epidemic), and in collaboration with the Communist Youth League of Xuhui, dentsu Z team incubated with fresh talent pools.

With dentsu Z camp as the recruiting platform, Chris received nearly 2000 resumes in just three weeks, many of which were quite impressive, including students majored in fashion design at Parsons School of Design in New York, and students from Shanghai Jiao Tong University studying multimedia. There were also students majored in broadcasting. Chris and 6 mentors selected 49 young talents to participate in a two-day offline training camp. The camp finished with 8 of them joining dentsu Z team, and some other outstanding talents finding their best fit in different teams in dentsu.


This young generation cares more about where they can fully play.


Today’s dentsu Z team has made it true for Chris's dream for several years.

As a creative, Chris even did his unique best practice when naming the Z team roles. Instead of copy, art etc, Z team players are named storyteller, visualizer, new media artist, cultural observer, social player, innovator. Each name is like a super vault, inclusive with various capabilities and possibilities of the young people. Since the last camp completed in May, the dentsu Z has been learning the real ads business while creating in tasks and projects. In just a few months, they’ve already helped the dentsu group win some amazing business.

The attempts they make are also different from traditional creatives.

Say ‘NO’ to client’s brief: dentsu Z, a special presence with one particular feature is that instead of picking up client’s brief, they take the initiative to tell client and brand what to do next through their own perspective as young consumers themselves. Rather than being told what the brand is like and what tasks to do, dentsu Z team proactively make strategic plans and propose solutions for the clients, based on the most authentic and practical research and insights, to deliver a unique ‘PASSCODE’. 

"If you can't even be attracted by what you created, don't propose it to the clients. Then, this gang came up with lots of unexpected surprises. Some of them are super social players, one of which is a blogger on Little Red Book where she posts her shop exploration videos. You’ll know that creatives can do something completely new. My role in this Z taskforce is to integrate what impresses the brand. I will leave as much space as possible for them to unleash their ideas throughout the process.” Respect young people's ideas, and give them a stage for their talents, and even let them participate in global pitches, which not only recognizes the value of employees, but also broadened their horizons.

In dentsu Z, young people can do what they really want to do. The advertising industry looks glamorous, but in fact, people who experience it know how it feels and the strong contrast. Many young people in large agency groups often find it difficult to be given important roles. Many were given chaotic tasks like Weibo or WeChat copywriting in the first few years. But what if they have the access to open so many windows to different worlds, and are trained with even more professional capabilities to meet challenges, they won’t want to leave the company. “This is a real world, not just slogans or blueprints depicted by ads agencies. All the agencies are talking about how they value talents, but how many of them really acted? If they can't get what they want, we won't get what we want. Luckily, this is a well growing double circulation between the young in dentsu Z team and our original agency structure. Through the past few months’ practice, Z team all feel dentsu is an ideal place to present themselves."


These self-proclaimed 'elders' of Gen Z are afraid of death, yet are different.


Last year’s Double 11 shopping festival saw healthcare products become one of young people’s top three purchases on Tmall. Days ago, Chris briefed Z team to make a video featuring young people’s impressions to an instant noodle brand and their expectations. “They said this is the first KOL of noodles but now looks like something only grandpa cooks. They want more vegetables, and even brought forward a concept of light noodles... All these make you more sure that these young people really are the 'elder' of Gen Z afraid of death but frankly about the fact. The pandemic breakout made these young people’s characteristics even more distinctive and outstanding."

They are misunderstood as 996 timesheet haters, while actually, they are willing to go all out for things they are passionate about. They adore super talent, not super celebrity. They are not poor in vocabulary and ‘YYDS (eternal gods)’ is not their only language, instead they own various languages in different communities, and one that cannot speak the language will be met with ‘contempt’. This is their world. Also, these young people are patriotic. From political patriotism to cultural patriotism to patriotism on consumption, they hope that the country gets even better, and they have many ideas and take actions. They even stay together for the whole weekend or holidays playing room escape and live action role playing, shopping at TX Huaihai." Getting along with them like friends. A few days ago, they even sent me a banner and threw a funny birthday celebration for me. So special and memorable. Moreover, this wonderful team gradually connected with all the young people across dentsu creative, created a ‘playground’ of young people where they compete and help each other. It is something out of my expectations. This is also a positive circulation with a good impact on the culture of the entire dentsu creative service line.” Chris added.

Joe (or Chunguang), the eldest boy in the team born in 1995, is quite mature beyond his age. To every question, he always thinks for a while then gives a perfect yet sincere answer. He was an uploader on Bilibili and once produced audio programs, but never included ads in his career list before. He believes that Gen Z is more impulsive and also more active. The biggest gain from the two-month training is to embrace creativity with a more open mind, upgrade simple ideas, and do something that others haven't done before. "Compared with some senior professionals in the industry, we don't have rich working experience. We may think of something fun but lack deeper insights and analysis. It is where we need to grow fast, to draw more detailed and leading insights from one project then deliver to everyone."

By the end of brainstorming, we visited dentsu Z office on 7th floor (leaving five minutes for them to clean up:). It is simple and warm, full of youthful favorites, and we saw the sweet celebration banner for Chris’ birthday on the wall. The space is finite, but dreams are infinite. Self-contradictory, slash and rare species as described by themselves, we hope they fearlessly move forward to the future with their unique sense of value and mission to deliver the coolest creative work.

dentsu Z  TEAM

Aurora, Storyteller
Yovela, New Media Artist 
Norman, Cultural Observer (still a senior in college)
Yvonne, Visualizer
Arya, Visualizer (still a senior in college)
Joe, Senior Planner
Hazel, Visualizer